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Today marks the first anniversary of Birmingham's recognition as a fair trade city. One of the key promoters of the scheme was Maggie Jo St John, who's now in Nicaragua helping coffee farmers learn English. Her latest blog reveals some of the harsh economic facts of their existence.

I've just had a very interesting visit to Jinotega, the capital of the second largest department (or county) of Nicaragua. It produces 65% of Nicaragua's coffee for export. I visited a union of coffee co-operatives, Soppexcca to talk about English classes for their new rural tourism programme and also for their young coffee cuppers - the local equivalent of wine tasters.

These men assess the quality of the coffee as it is harvested, and also throughout the year where it is stored. From the quality of the beans and the taste of the coffee, they are able to advise the grower on problems and recommend how s/he can improve quality and productivity. This is having a tremendous positive impact. Previously small producers had no such help. They are also very eager to learn English, so I am really keen to find them volunteers to come and teach.

Visitors come from the USA and Europe to learn about coffee cupping,and it's very hard for these visitors to glean all the details as their Spanish is often limited, and at the moment the lads speak no English. I hope we can change that for them.

Soppexcca is a large co-operative. They have 650 members and so the impact of Fairtrade status is very significant. I wrote previously of the rather high cost of applying for the certificate. Now I know something more specific of the benefits. The Soppexcca producers harvest around 20,000 quintales of pergamino (green) beans (a quintal is 100lbs). By the time this has been dehusked and dried there is about half that amount to export asCafe Oro.

Because demand and supply aren't equal, they can only sell 60% of their coffee as Fairtrade so we all need to keep the campaigns going to buy more. For every quintal they get a social premium of $5 and a price of $121. That's $18 above the current market price. So my calculation is, that at 60% of 10,000 quintales at $5, Soppexcca's total social premium is $30,000.

Once again the advantage of size is apparent. UCA Miraflor are much much smaller and probably have less than 500 quintales of Cafe Oro, so less than $2500 of social premium.

$30,000 is a substantial sum here and means that Soppexcca can support a primary school for around 700 students in an area where there was no provision.

I stayed overnight with a family and two of the kids walk downhill for forty minutes to get to that school for 8am and I guess it takes them a bit more to climb back home for lunch at midday when classes end. And they're not the furthest away. There are 30+ in a class so they are beginning to think about morning and afternoon sessions.

The average increase in income for each member works out at $270. I just met a guy from the USA employing some labourers on building work and he's paying them $3 a day, so that $270 is equivalent to four or five months


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